Is the glass half-full or half-empty? This question is used to determine whether we are optimistic (if we see the grass half-full) or pessimistic (the glass is half-empty.) Raise your hand if you are half-full person? Half-empty?
This question assumes that being empty – emptiness – is a bad thing. In Christianity we sing and think a lot about God “filling us up” – we even have a hymn in our United Methodist Hymnal called “Fill my cup, Lord.” (No. 641) The lyrics are this:
Fill my cup, Lord
I lift it up, Lord
Come and quench this thirsting of my soul.
Bread of heaven, feed me till I want no more;
Fill my cup, fill it up and make me whole.
Emptiness is not good, according to the song and in our scripture Jesus says “Whoever comes to me will never be hungry, and whoever believes in me will never be thirsty.” But “fullness” and “emptiness” both have their uses in our lives and can be seen as positive adjectives, depending on the context. For example:
- Would you rather have your bank account full or empty?
- Would you rather have your email inbox full or empty?
- Would you rather have your refrigerator full or empty?
- Would you rather have your To-Do list full or empty?
- If you were an overworked single parent would you rather have your schedule full or empty?
- If you were a lonely empty-nesting parent would you rather have your house full or empty?
- If you were a struggling church would you rather have your pews full or empty?
- If you were the goalie in a World cup match, would you rather have your goal full or empty?
As I approach my own spiritual life, I find myself needing more and more emptying endless filling up… I find myself feeling overwhelmed with worry and confusion, filled with tasks to do, satiated with a flood of the concerns of others, and drowning in the tears of the world. Sometimes I feel like there is so much junk inside me, that I have no room for the blessings God has in store for me…. So much so that I think our hymn should go something like this:
Empty me out, Lord
of all the junk, Lord
So you can refill me with the goodness of your love.
(not as catchy, I know…)
EMPTINESS can be useful, like cleaning out the closets or digging up the weeds. Emptiness can permit new things to happen, good people to enter our lives as the plucking of weeds, allows other roots to take hold.
In our scripture today, Jesus is trying to instruct the crowd about being filled with the Bread of Heaven, that it is not just empty calories, but that it is nourishing and giving us life. That is the bread he speaks about. That is Jesus, the Bread sent from Heaven.
So, let’s look at our Scripture lesson from the gospel of John. We remember that, after the miracles of the leave and fishes, the crowd follows him and they still want more
Jesus said to them, in verse 35: ‘I am the bread of life. Whoever comes to me will never be hungry, and whoever believes in me will never be thirsty.
But the people wonder, “ How can we believe you? We need a guarantee. Proof that you are who you say you are.”
Our scripture continues in verse 41: Then the Judaeans began to complain about him because he said, ‘I am the bread that came down from heaven.’ They were saying, ‘Is not this Jesus, the son of Joseph, whose father and mother we know? How can he now say, “I have come down from heaven”?’
Now, a note:
I have done some editing here in this verse… and changed the word “Jews” into “Judaeans” and I will explain: The New Testament has been used for anti-semitic purposes and one of the reasons is the depiction of “the Jews” in the texts, and the way we’ve interpreted those texts. But, following the advice of author Richard Horsley, I am translating this as “the Judaeans,” because it is indicative of the tension between Galilean and Judaean followers. (1)
Then the Judaeans began to complain about him because he said, ‘I am the bread that came down from heaven.’ They were saying, ‘Is not this Jesus, the son of Joseph, whose father and mother we know? How can he now say, “I have come down from heaven”?’
There were people in the crowd who KNEW Jesus, knew his parents Joseph and Mary, remember when he started school and rode his bike down the streets of their city. How were they supposed to be believe that Jesus was “from Heaven”?
Now, the issue of Jesus having come down from heaven is repeated in verses 42 & 51. It is a theme that John wants to emphasize. A key element of the Christian faith in John is the origin of Jesus. Where did he come from? Understanding that Jesus was with God and has come down from God is nearly synonymous with faith in John. “Those arguing understand his origins to have been from Joseph and Mary. Others see him as only coming from Nazareth. John’s gospel says, this is a sign of their improper or inadequate faith. (2) It sounds like normal human skepticism to me.
So, to finish the text, Jesus indicates that he is the bread they desire: “I am the bread of life.” The purpose of Bread: to fill us, to nourish us, to give us life, to help us survive. I am the bread of Life, says Jesus. The bread that will GIVE you life.
AND “I am the Bread Sent from Heaven:” the bread that GOD wants you to have! All that you need to live and prosper and THRIVE, is in me and I am sent from God.
* “The Giving Tree” by Shel Silverstein was my favorite book as I was growing up – a story of Self-Sacrificing love. But asI got older, I noticed the selfishness of the boy – the tree was giving and giving – to the point of complete desolation, and the boy always wanted more.
As I read it again now, I think of the tree as God- always wanting to give us what we need to make us happy, and we are the boy – always wanting more. As I read the story – imagine you as the boy, empty and wanting to fill up the holes in ourselves with more… and God always providing us the Bread from heaven.
Read The Giving Tree by Shel Silverstein, 1964 (3)
- To those who feel empty: May this emptiness give you time and space to discern what will make you happy. and may God’s love fill you.
- To those who are filled with worry, busyness and challenges: May God’s love clear out space for hope to rest inside your heart.
- To those who know God; May your faith be a reminder to others of God’s compassion.
- To those who are looking: May God’s unselfish gift fill you with the joy in knowing that we are all loved by God. Amen.
- found on http://leftbehindandlovingit.blogspot.com/2012/08/john-635-41-51-below-is-my-rough.html
- Brian Stoffregen found on http://www.crossmarks.com/brian/john6x35.htm
- Shel Silverstien, The Giving Tree, New York: Harper and Row, 1964.